Andrew Jackson Jihad frontman Sean Bonnette discusses songwriting, life changes

Rachel Rascoe

Editor’s note: This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

Inspired by skate tricks and inside jokes, Andrew Jackson Jihad lyrics are often existential, sometimes political and other times self-deprecating. The folk-punk Americana group formed in 2004 and released its most recent album, Christmas Island, in 2014. The Daily Texan spoke with frontman Sean Bonnette about his past work at a suicide hotline and the band’s next album, expected to be released sometime in 2016. The band will take the stage Sunday at Fun Fun Fun Fest, where Bonnette said he’ll likely perform cartwheels and somersaults.

The Daily Texan: You’ve talked about experiencing writer’s block while working on past albums. How do you overcome that?

Sean Bonnette: By writing. Something definitely built up and then eventually broke with writing the last record, and it broke in a good way. I remembered that it’s not rocket surgery. It’s just writing songs for enjoyment and self-expression. I’m at a pretty prolific stage of my life at the moment, and I think that has to do with being less precious about the songs, more like I was when I was younger and just learning that I could write songs.

DT: What will be different about the new album?

SB: Hopefully everything. I’ve got a couple of songs written. A lot of them seem to deal with the theme of the inner child, so it might turn out to be a pretty childlike album. We all keep referencing the idea of fury as a theme we want to have — something really furious. Until we actually record it, I know we’re just going to have no idea what it’s actually going to be like. That’s the best part.

DT: You incorporate multiple layers of references and jokes into a lot of your songs. Do you feel like listeners need to get these references to fully get your music?

SB: Not at all. In fact, I think it’s a lot of the times better if people don’t get the references, because it can take on a lot more meaning that way. There are some references in my songs where only one person has actually caught them. I’m just as interested, if not more so, in people misinterpreting the references or coming up with their own meaning for the songs.

DT: A lot of your lyrics explore death and depression, but your music is still really fun. Do you find yourself intentionally balancing those aspects?

SB: No. I think the reason that my music sounds so fun, or the reason the chords and the tunes sound fun, is because that’s the only way I know how to write. I can write really sad songs, but I don’t really have the musical vocabulary to write a sad song that isn’t in A minor or E minor. I wouldn’t be able to write in a more avant-garde way, unfortunately, or at least not yet.

DT: Some of your earlier lyrics, like in the song “American Tune,” got really literal. How do you think your methods of delivering a message have changed?

SB: I think the phase of my life is a lot different than every other phase. I keep getting older and living in different places, and that has a definite effect on the songs. “American Tune” was written from the perspective of a young man in his early 20s who’s working two jobs in the human services field and is surrounded by a lot of literal injustice. Now I’m kind of just embracing being an artist. I’m not working for a homeless shelter or a suicide hotline at the moment, so I think a lot of my songs are a lot more internal and, goddamn it, introspective.

  • Andrew Jackson Jihad
  • When: Sunday, Nov. 8, 6:35 p.m. 
  • Where: Fun Fun Fun Fest, Jash Yellow Stage